Can cheese give you nightmares? 10 fascinating facts about this popular food

Cheese Gourmet expert shares some cheesy wisdom

A delectable selection of cheeses on a cheeseboard.
A delectable selection of cheeses on a cheeseboard.
Image: Brian Dick

A cheeseboard is a festive fave so we turned to  expert Brian Dick of Cheese Gourmet to share some cheesy wisdom.

1. CAN YOU COOK WITH CHEAP CHEESE?

Of course you can, but why would you?  Flavour, it’s all about flavour and artisan cheeses, being naturally matured, will generally give you heaps of it. You will use less to achieve a better dish. Not all cheeses heat the same way. Some release oil, some split, so best to choose a cheese that is right for the purpose and won’t ruin your dish.

2. WHOLE OR READY-GRATED?

The best cheese is a whole head, second best, a wedge and last, grated. Grated cheese stored, tends to lose flavour. There is nothing better than grating Parmesan at the table. It adds to the theatre and the flavour is more intense than ready-grated cheese.

3. THE OLDER THE BETTER

Wine and cheese are, in many respects so similar.  Cheese, like wine has an optimal age and high-moisture fresh cheeses such as Brie, ricotta and cream cheese are eaten young. Dryer cheeses like pecorino, cheddar, gruyere and Parmesan benefit from time to mature and develop richer, more complex flavours. It’s an expensive exercise looking after a cheese in a controlled environment for two to three years and consequently, expect to pay substantially more for a vintage cheese.

4. STORING CHEESE

Wrap it in cling film or keep it in an airtight container? Neither. Cling film used to store cheese keeps it moist and that’s when surface moulds start to grow and an airtight container creates a micro climate and traps moisture so moulds are more likely to grow. Ideally wrap your cheese in waxed paper as this will allow it to breathe without drying out too much. Cheese is best stored in the salad drawer of the fridge as it won’t dry out as much as stored in the door of the refrigerator.

Cheese Gourmet's Brian Dick shares some fascinating facts on cheese.
Cheese Gourmet's Brian Dick shares some fascinating facts on cheese.
Image: Brian Dick

5. IF IT GOES MOULDY, IT’S BAD

Wrong. Cheese is a living thing, it’s entirely natural and that’s what enables the moulds to develop. If a cheese doesn’t go mouldy it’s likely to be packed with preservatives. Cheese makers are constantly caring for their products during the maturation including cleaning moulds off the surface of the cheese. Generally moulds are not harmful but they do taint the flavour. Trim them off if you prefer as there’s no need to waste the cheese.

6. TEMPERATURE OF SERVING CHEESE

We’re back to wine similarities, a red wine served really cold dulls its flavour and the same holds for cheese. Serving it straight from the fridge will mean the texture will be too firm and the flavour lifeless, without the inherent complexities. Ideally serve cheese at room temperature, about 14 — 16°C is perfect, but not a SA 30°C steaming hot summer day when it’s best removed from the fridge 15 minutes before serving.

7. A SPECIALIST CHEESE KNIFE?

Not necessary,  rather experiment with what you have in the drawer. A thin knife will cut Brie perfectly but fail completely on Parmesan. I like the idea of breaking chunks off a hard cheese though in these times this may be unacceptable, in which case a heavier knife will do the job. 

8. ARE ALL RINDS INEDIBLE?

We waste so much goodness cutting off rinds, so this is where buying cheese from a reputable cheese monger is important as they can tell you if the cheese is coated in cloth or wax which will need to be cut off.  Generally rinds are edible and in fact have their own flavour profiles, I can’t imagine peeling a Brie!

9. PAIRING CHEESE AND WINE

The 1970s Cheese and Wines are  back in fashion, but they can be really tricky balancing the two so that the flavours  aren’t overpowered. Generally a more heavy wine needs a bigger/stronger cheese. Pairing both cheese and wine is part experience and part palate, so whites, pinks and reds all pair well when they taste best to you. Even beer and cheese pairing is a hit and a new trend — artisan beers and boutique cheeses. The vast array of beer types and flavours provide you with an endless choice to wow your guests.

10. CHEESE GIVES YOU NIGHTMARES

Research has shown no definitive correlation, so fear not! Charles Dickens certainly thought it did. When Ebenezer Scrooge is confronted with the ghost of his late partner Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol, he at first assumes it is a night terror brought on by eating a “crumb of cheese.” This is where the idea is thought to have originated.

• Cheese Gourmet is located at 71A between 3rd Avenue and 7th St in Linden. Call: 011 888 5384.


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